The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum
Temple Grandin, Richard Panek
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When Temple Grandin was born in 1947, autism had only just been named. Today it is more prevalent than ever, with one in 88 children diagnosed on the spectrum. And our thinking about it has undergone a transformation in her lifetime: Autism studies have moved from the realm of psychology to neurology and genetics, and there is far more hope today than ever before thanks to groundbreaking new research into causes and treatments. Now Temple Grandin reports from the forefront of autism science, bringing her singular perspective to a thrilling journey into the heart of the autism revolution.
Weaving her own experience with remarkable new discoveries, Grandin introduces the neuroimaging advances and genetic research that link brain science to behavior, even sharing her own brain scan to show us which anomalies might explain common symptoms. We meet the scientists and self-advocates who are exploring innovative theories of what causes autism and how we can diagnose and best treat it. Grandin also highlights long-ignored sensory problems and the transformative effects we can have by treating autism symptom by symptom, rather than with an umbrella diagnosis. Most exciting, she argues that raising and educating kids on the spectrum isn’t just a matter of focusing on their weaknesses; in the science that reveals their long-overlooked strengths she shows us new ways to foster their unique contributions.
From the “aspies” in Silicon Valley to the five-year-old without language, Grandin understands the true meaning of the word spectrum. The Autistic Brain is essential reading from the most respected and beloved voices in the field.
person with autism would have been a lot different. In 1947, the diagnosis of autism was only four years old. Almost nobody knew what it meant. When Mother noticed in me the symptoms that we would now label autistic—destructive behavior, inability to speak, a sensitivity to physical contact, a fixation on spinning objects, and so on—she did what made sense to her. She took me to a neurologist. Bronson Crothers had served as the director of the neurology service at Boston Children’s Hospital
effect is clear: This particular chromosome causes that particular syndrome. Geneticists have had some success in locating specific cause-and-effect genes in autism-related disorders. In Rett syndrome—a disorder of the nervous system that leads to developmental reversals that are often diagnosed as symptoms of autism—the cause is a defect in the gene for a particular protein, MeCP2, located on the X chromosome. In tuberous sclerosis—a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow and is accompanied
noises or, in my case, deep pressure. They often stimulate these sensations through rocking, twirling, hand-flapping, or noisemaking. The other two categories are sort of the opposite of the first category. Rather than seeking sensations, the people in these two categories are responding to unsolicited sensations. Sensory overresponsiveness. People with this are overly sensitive to input. They can’t stand the smell of the pasta sauce, or they can’t sit in a noisy restaurant or wear
into a routine that never varies and that offers no new experiences. I didn’t become interested in cattle until I went to my aunt’s ranch. A high-school experimental-psychology class that featured lots of fascinating optical illusions stimulated my interest in both psychology and cattle behavior. The world is full of fascinating and potentially life-altering things, but kids aren’t going to adopt them if they don’t know about them. (Even autistic people with severe problems need to see the world.
then too. For whatever combination of reasons, the reported incidence of autism diagnoses has only continued to increase. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network to collect data from eight-year-olds to provide estimates of autism and other developmental disabilities in the United States. The data from 2002 indicated that 1 in 150 children had an ASD. The data from 2006 raised the incidence to 1 in 110